New three-storey wine shop opens in Suffolk's 'foodiest' town
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Sitting down to enjoy a glass of wine is one of life’s great pleasures...especially as we slide into the warmer, brighter months of the year.
Longer evenings bring the promise of nibbles and fizz with friends. Of lazy Sundays, sharing a bottle after slugging away getting the garden ready for summer.
But buying wine can be a minefield. Many of us have been stung by cheap supermarket plonk that promised so much on the label, delivering nothing but a vinegary tang. And as for independent wine shops – aren't they scary, fusty places lined with walls of dusty old bottles that require remortgaging the house?
The answer to that one is a resounding no say the owners of Suffolk’s newest wine store, Vino Gusto in Bury St Edmunds, where many of the bottles sit around the £11.50 mark. These are wines which have been carefully hand-picked and tasted. Chosen from vineyards using ethical, sustainable practices, more than 50% of them organic. Wines that have something to say.
If you visit the shop, on Hatter Street, owners Rox and David Marjoram (of the Gusto Pronto group) and Jake Bennett-Day, say you’ll find an easy-to-navigate collection, a friendly, no-pressure welcome, and bags of advice. Whether you don’t know your Chardonnay from your Sauvignon Blanc, or you’re a collector of the finer things in life – there's something in store for you.
Opening on Wednesday, March 16, Vino Gusto was originally conceived during lockdown as a project fostering Rox and David’s love of wine, bringing something different to the town centre (from The One Bull) during the long, tumultuous lockdown periods.
As the pub re-opened, wine continued to be sold, and there were talks of turning the cellar into a wine shop, but the couple, alongside Vino Gusto manager Jake, agreed the brand could and should stand on its own.
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Straddling three floors, including a cellar of red and special wines, a ground level floor of white, canned and dessert/sweet wines, and a top floor tasting room with views to the cathedral, Vino Gusto (in the former premises of Chica Shoes) has a contemporary feel, with a nod to the building’s history. Amidst the clean lines and crisp white and grey colour scheme, ancient stonework (made with the same materials as the cathedral) has been left uncovered in the basement.
“When we got to last summer, with most of the remaining restrictions around social distancing starting to lift, it became clear we needed to do something with the wine shop,” says Rox.
“All three of us had really enjoyed the fact that out of all the horrible stuff happening, we were able to create this project from nothing, so we were keen to keep capitalising on all the time we’d put in."
Jake, who first worked for the couple as a 16/17-year-old at the bar, going on to work abroad and locally in the pub industry, says he’s delighted with the realisation of his dream.
“I’ve always wanted my own business and to be in the wine trade, and I’ve spoken for years with David and Rox about some options of going into business with them. I had the luxury of time in lockdown, which got my brain ticking, and between the three of us, we really enjoyed the process of creating Vino Gusto. It was something positive to focus on while the world was burning around us. To be where we are now is fantastic.”
“A huge amount of thought has gone into exactly how the shop would be laid out and come together,” adds Rox. “I can’t tell you how many hours we spent on the plans. It took longer than we thought, but we’re so thrilled with how it’s looking.”
Wines are arranged in the shop for ease, not by country, but by type – from fruity and floral to funky and exotic, and there’s the chance to try a few before you buy, with eight bottles (four red, four white) kept at optimum temperature in the Enomatic machine – the first in Suffolk and one of only four of its type in the UK. Buy a pre-loaded ‘credit’ card, head for the machine, pop your glass underneath, press the button and away you go.
“The idea is customers can stay a while, sit and enjoy some wine with olives and cheese, and get a conversation going,” says Jake. “We’re not a wine bar, we’re an experience. We want to be a wine hub. There’s a lot of pretentiousness around wine and we’re really keen here to keep it casual, informal and inclusive for everyone. If you’re willing to spend a few quid more than in the supermarket, we can take you on a journey that’s far more interesting.”
Jake says he’s passionate about finding extraordinary bottles, but also opening the door to true value. “Yes, you can enjoy a Chardonnay from Montrachet that’s £80 a bottle, but I have a Chardonnay from Blackbook Winery in London, using grapes grown in Sussex, for £30 a bottle. It blows Montrachet out of the water.”
He adds there are some terrific wines from places you might not usually consider. Georgia (the cradle of winemaking), Macedonia, Lebanon, Greece.
Are there any favourites?
“Mine is one we’ve had from the early days of the wine shop. It’s the Ikigall. A stunning wine produced by an ex-El Bulli sommelier. It’s really really interesting and only £14 a bottle,” says Rox, with Jake adding tasting notes of lemon, a coastal salinity, and stone fruits. “All of his wines are gastronomic, so pair well with food.”
Giving advice on matching food with wine is just one of the reasons to visit an indy wine shop such as Vino Gusto. Another is the stories. Jake has visited many of the vineyards, putting a face to the wines, and being able to relay those tales to customers – sharing the magic of the terroir as he experienced it.
“One of our most popular wines,” says Jake, “is a Beaujolais-Villages from a guy called Dominique Morel. I visited him a couple of years ago with my dad. He speaks as much English as I do French (so not a lot) but we could communicate in grunts and thumbs up! He makes wine in his garage – dad couldn’t believe it.
“Another that sticks out is the Vin Santo. A few years ago I visited Tuscany, a vineyard at the top of Chianti. We enjoyed a nice tasting, then they took us for dinner at their restaurant a few hundred yards down the road, and we sat on the terrace with views of the rolling countryside. After a four-course pasta dinner, as the sun came down we had a 2009 Vin Santo and single scoop of vanilla gelato. It’s one of my favourite food and wine memories.”
More than a dozen dessert wines sit on the shelves at Vino Gusto, as well as a couple of recently discovered and very good low alcohol wines, fine wines such as Grosset Polish Hill Riesling from Jeff Grosset in Australia’s Clare Valley (considered one of the best producers of Riesling in the world), and wines in cans from The Liberator.
With Woosters bakery around the corner, and a cheese shop due to open next door, with a can or two of wine tucked into a hamper you have the makings of quite a fine picnic to enjoy in the Abbey Gardens.
“I’ve worked with Richard [the importer of The Liberator] for many years,” says Jake, explaining that he “finds parcels of wines that have been partially made or made but never bottled, from contacts in South Africa. Instead of being blended away into other wines, he ‘liberates’ those parcels and gets some cracking, good value wines into cans.”
Another facet of the shop is its airy tasting room, comfortably seating up to 12 people for corporate tastings, fun tasting evenings for the public, and even private functions.
“We can lead courses for restaurant groups, taking them through, for example, half a day of natural wine, and we’ll do more casual events. Plus my mentor Nick Adams, one of only 400 masters of wine in the world, will run WSET-accredited courses. He’s the most amazing trainer and is as excited as we are,” adds Jake.
Find Vino Gusto at 27 Hatter Street, Bury St Edmunds. You can also buy online from the Vino Gusto website.